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DIY: Speech-to-text alternatives to Dragon NaturallySpeaking

If Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software isn't in your budget, read about other speech-to-text options Jack Wallen suggests to a TechRepublic reader.

I received the following question from TechRepublic member Jeff Braddock. Please post your suggestions for the reader in the discussion.

Q: At our church, we have a deaf man, and I would like to make it where he could participate in/enjoy the services. In particular, I am searching for some kind of real-time speech to text program. I know there is Dragon, but 1) it's not free, 2) I don't know how well it would do.

I would be open to something that either runs on Windows XP or a version of Linux. I currently dual boot Windows 7 and Ubuntu 10.04 on my laptop, and so would be able to test it out first.

I have tried using the speech to text capabilities in Word 2003, but even with several training sessions, it just isn't accurate enough.

I/we would appreciate any suggestions you might have (even if they are not free, though that is always nice! :-)

A: As you may know, Windows (both XP and 7) has built-in speech-to-text recognition. It has some quirks and faults, but it can do the trick. You might be running into incompatibilities between versions. Here's what I know:
  • Windows XP does not support speech recognition in Microsoft Office 2007 programs.
  • Microsoft Office 2003 and 2002 works fine Windows XP.
  • Microsoft Office versions prior to 2002 do not support speech recognition.
  • With any speech-to-text program, it's important to train the tool for the voice it will be hearing, so make sure the speaker gets plenty of training time in a quiet space with a good mic.

With that in mind, I recommend using either Windows XP and Office 2003 or 2007 or use Windows 7 and Office 2010 or 2007. If you use any other combination of OS and Office suite, you're going to have issues.

In Linux, there are two options: CMU Sphinx and Julius; however, both options are for users with quite a bit of experience with Linux and can be problematic to piece together. If you're interested, here are more details:

  • CMU Sphinx is a collection of tools for people who work with speech recognition. It's written entirely in Java, so the installation might be a challenge.
  • Julius is an open source large vocabulary CSR engine. Make sure you spend some time on the website — you might find that Julius is just what you need.

Keep in mind there's a reason why Dragon NaturallySpeaking is so popular, as well as pricey — it works.

Ask Jack: If you have a DIY question, email it to me, and I'll do my best to answer it. (Read guidelines about submitting DIY questions.)

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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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